49ers Gearing up for Changes at Linebacker Before Playoff Game

Azeez Al-Shaair

Getty Azeez Al-Shaair intercepts a pass while Fred Warner (No. 54) and Josh Norman follow him during the 49ers' November 28, 2021 home win over the Vikings.

Are the San Francisco 49ers the walking wounded heading into the Lonestar State on Sunday, January 16? Or are the 49ers healthy across the board as they renew acquaintances with an old playoff nemesis in the Dallas Cowboys?

On that note, what’s the health of the linebacking unit? A group that’s seen its share of significant ailments throughout the 17-game slate with every starter missing their share of action in multiple games?

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Well, as of Friday morning, January 14, the 49ers aren’t dealing with any significant injuries out of the current lineup responsible for their latest playoff run.

However, 49ers general manager John Lynch added this news during a radio interview that will surely pique the interest of the 49ers faithful when looking at the defense before they take on Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot and company. And this news could bring forth changes on defense — for the better.

49ers Star ‘Will be Ready to Roll’

The 49ers have been without rising outside linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair since December 23 against the Tennessee Titans — when he collected six tackles including five assisted.

Before his knee injury and getting placed on the inactive list, Al-Shaair posted four games that saw him reach double digit tackles — a first in his NFL career according to Pro Football Reference.

Will Al-Shaair suit up against the Cowboys in the highly-anticipated wildcard showdown? Lynch answered that in his appearance on the Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks show on KNBR 680 AM/104.5 FM in the Bay Area.

“The nice thing now is it looks as though Azeez is going to be ready to roll,” Lynch said in his Thursday interview.

Having the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder will certainly spark the 49ers heading into AT&T Stadium, especially when the ‘Niners are backed inside their 20-yard line. Here’s samples of the season he was putting together before his knee halted him momentarily:

He exploded into Kenny Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks on this key goal line stand:

He displayed his awareness, agility and quickness in another red zone stop against the Indianapolis Colts.

And there’s one more red zone stuffing Al-Shaair delivered, this one against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Al-Shaair’s likely return is especially beneficial for a 49ers LB core that can get the 24-year-old reteaming with another ‘backer making his comeback from an injury.

Al-Shaair Would Reunite With Greenlaw

In the exhilarating 27-24 overtime win in Inglewood over the Los Angeles Rams to secure a final playoff spot in the NFC, the 49ers welcomed back key defender Dre Greenlaw to the lineup.

The 6-foot, 227-pounder, who had been out of the 49ers’ lineup since the season opener against the Detroit Lions and played sparingly against the Minnesota Vikings on November 28, snatched 12 tackles including five solo in the comeback win over the Rams. Greenlaw helped set an aggressive tone for the ‘Niners in that Rams contest.

And before Greenlaw dealt with hip and core ailments that nearly wiped away his entire 2021 season, he swooped up this pick six in the Motor City:

Lynch had chills watching Greenlaw go to work with a playoff berth on the line.

“It was so fun watching him play,” Lynch said on the show. “Man, he was playing fast. The tape showed it, but in person, it was unbelievable just to see the speed and quickness. He was huge in that game.”

So now, there’s the high probability that the Cowboys will face this lineup in the middle of the S.F. defense: Pro Bowler Fred Warner and a healthier Al-Shaair and Greenlaw.

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